On the morning of their fourth Trial, they tried to move like shadows through the grass. Weaving in and out of sunlight, placing their feet lightly, their hands joined tightly together, they tried to disappear.
“I don’t say prayers anymore,” whispered Kaylen.
“I do,” said Grant and squeezed her hand.
As much as they tried to be invisible, though, fourth Trials were an anomaly and speculation dogged their steps through the morning light. Normally, this would be a walk of honor and the small, domed white houses that dotted the pathway would have their doors wide open, their occupants waving from the doorways and throwing flowers for good luck. Today, all the doors were shut. But the curtains twitched in the windows, too much movement to be the wind.
Kaylen watched the windows resentfully, her heart thudding in her chest partly from fear and partly from anger. This fourth Trial, this final chance, needed more luck than first Trials ever did. But the only flowers were the dead brown thistles that hid in the grass.
The waiting room of the Replication Center was empty. Grant led Kaylen to a cold, metal chair and she sat down while he went to ring the bell. The bell was the only object visible on a long, glass desk. A sleek white stool was positioned under desk, visible through the spotless glass, but otherwise the only furniture was more metal chairs like the one Kaylen used. The room, overall, was very sterile – white walls, white floor, no pictures and no windows. The lights overheard seemed incredibly bright, like midday sun, but gave off no heat. The room was cold enough to raise goose-bumps on Kaylen’s arms and make her shiver.
It didn’t help that she was nervous.
On their first trip to the Replication Center, four years ago, Kaylen had been too excited to sit. She had paced the room, chattering so much that Grant could only watch and smile. The first Trial was normally considered a formality and so Kaylen had been unafraid. Second Trials weren’t unheard of, but typically only happened when a candidate was found to be in ill health. Kaylen and Grant had submitted to preliminary testing to preclude this possibility.
But the day had gone horribly wrong. The Replication Specialist had refused to meet their eyes at first; that was the first inkling of trouble. She had talked very slowly, looking at the digital image readout instead of their faces. And she had provided a copy of the results so they could read along.
“Subject A is not a suitable candidate for motherhood,” the Specialist read. “Subject B is not a suitable candidate for fatherhood. These results are confirmed. No other information can be provided. Further analysis is unnecessary. Subjects A and B may reapply in one year.”
The same results were read at their second Trial. And their third.
Today, the day of the fourth and final Trial, Kaylen feared she would hear the same words again.
When they reached the Replication Center, a cheerful receptionist ushered them past another expectant couple and into an empty sterile room.
“Just wait here,” the woman chirped, but she didn’t meet their eyes. “The Specialist will be in shortly.”
Kaylen turned to Grant as the door slid shut. “Why’d they put us in here?” she said, eyes wide and chewing her lip.
“They don’t want us to affect the other applicants probably,” he said bitterly. He sat down on one of the uncomfortable white chairs and crossed his arms over his chest.
“Oh,” she said, taking the seat next to him. She wanted to reach over and take his hand, but didn’t know how to do it when he sat folded in that way.
After a few silent moments, the door slid open again and the same Specialist that had failed them for the first trial came in. She smiled at them, her hair drawn back in a tight black bun that made the corners of her eyes lift slightly. She held a clear plastic clipboard against her chest with pink paper on it. A shiny silver nametag identified her as simply “Mara.”
“As you know, this is the fourth and final trial for replication suitability. You will not be able to try again should you fail this trial,” her words were clipped and solid, unchangeable. Then she softened. “But, I don’t think we’ll have any problem.”
Grant unfolded his arms and reached over to squeeze Kaylen’s hand. His breath came in short, damp bursts.
“Are you ready?” said Mara and they both nodded. “Let’s test Kaylen first this time, if you’ll come with me?”